ACT Council of Social Service Inc.

Justice | Equity | Social Inclusion | Reconciliation

Media release: New stories reveal true pokie toll

13 October 2018

Joint media release by the Canberra Gambling Reform Alliance.

Canberra people have opened up about the shocking toll that gambling, particularly electronic gaming machines, has taken on their lives and the lives of others in a new publication from ACTCOSS and the Canberra Gambling Reform Alliance.

Stories of Chance includes eight stories from Canberra people, including former gamblers, family members and a club worker who bear witness to the impact of gambling. Among the stories:

  • A gambling counsellor tells of a person under 40 years of age with almost $175,000 in gambling debt
  • A woman tells us she was never approached by a single club worker about her welfare despite staying in clubs until 4.00am and putting thousands of dollars through machines
  • A young man reveals how, while in his 20s, he acquired debts of up to $50,000 over several years, including on pokies, and was never encouraged to take a break or asked about his welfare
  • A woman describes losing an inheritance, considering turning to crime and witnessing harrowing scenes of fellow gamblers crying in carparks at 4.00am
  • A former club worker describes seeing patrons pour vast amounts of money into pokie machines and reveals the pressures club staff faced to ignore intensive gambling
  • Other people talk about being caught in a “rat’s treadmill” of gambling harm – losing hundreds of dollars at a time due to the intentionally addictive nature of the machines, their struggles to break free and the costs on their lives and families.

Alliance Co-Chair Rebecca Vassarotti stated, “While the clubs talk about gamblers taking personal responsibility for their decisions, these stories show that clubs don't fulfil their responsibilities to people experiencing gambling harm. We also need government to accept responsibility for better regulating an industry that is wreaking havoc on the lives of thousands of people.

“These stories and data show that gambling on the pokies seems like a funnel into which the ACT community collectively pours $168.4 million in a single year. Money that is spent to the detriment of people's savings, lives and incomes for a relatively small community contribution of $11.9 million in the same year,” Ms Vassarotti said.

ACT Council of Social Service Director Susan Helyar said, “Today we are also releasing a data factsheet that brings together what is known about gambling expenditure, revenue collection, individual and community harm, and regulatory arrangements.

“This work shows the ACT has not kept up with good regulatory practice when it comes to pokies. This leaves ACT clubs with no limits on the amounts that can be loaded as credits on a machine at any one time; no requirements for a time display to show people the time of day unlike ALL other jurisdictions surveyed; allowing machine losses to be disguised as wins to encourage people to keep betting; higher bet limits ($10) than Victoria, Queensland, Tasmania, South Australia and New Zealand; and no limits for the maximum amount that can be won on a machine.”

Alliance co-chair Jeremy Halcrow pointed out that, “The theme for this week’s Gambling Harm Awareness Week was ‘Start a conversation’. The stories released today should compel us to stop talking and start taking action.

“Actions should include introducing mandatory pre-commitment for all poker machine venues, $1 bet limits on all machines, aligning the rules on EFTPOS machines with ATMs, reducing the number of poker machines operating in the ACT by half, and overhauling the community contributions scheme.”

People can support the work of the Canberra Gambling Reform Alliance via Facebook.

Read Stories of Chance here.

For comment please contact:
Susan Helyar, Director, ACTCOSS on 0448 791 987 or 02 6202 7200

Rebecca Vassarotti, Co-Chair, Canberra Gambling Reform Alliance on 0408 668 963.